Vans rang in their 55th anniversary this year by doing what they do best: listening to their community, giving back to those in need, updating their classics and bringing interesting collaborative partners into the ever-expanding fold. The brand's 2021 highlights are listed below, so dive in to learn more – and before you do, be sure to take a moment in remembrance of Vans founder Paul Van Doren, an OG shoe dog and beloved figure both inside and outside of the company who passed away in May at 90 years old.
The metaverse is currently a hot new frontier for footwear brands, many of whom have been spending six-figure sums on questionable virtual art and buying plots of digital land (yes, really) to showcase their wares. Vans have never been one to follow the pack though, and instead of diving headfirst into the digital world, they opted to fuse live-streaming and broadcast TV together with their new Channel 66 initiative. Named after the year Vans was founded, Channel 66 broadcasts live from studios in Brooklyn, Chicago, Los Angeles and provides raw, authentic live programming.
Where else can you get free game from GZA while he plays chess or hear tales from the owners of Max Fish, a famous New York bar that once played host to everyone from Johnny Depp to the OG Supreme crew? Vans is about the product, sure. Every shoe brand has to be, or they won't be around long. However, Vans is just as much about the culture that surrounds the product – and the launch of Channel 66 was proof of that.
Squid Game Strikes!
Netflix's hit Korean drama Squid Game was 2021's most viral piece of entertainment, breaking watching records, making stars out of its cast members and even causing a Korean internet company to sue Netflix – it was so popular that the enhanced streaming it caused jacked up the company's cost of providing internet to its customers! While that internet company might have felt the force of Squid Game's rabid fans, Vans was buoyed by them thanks to a surge of interest in their all-white Slip-On.
The contestants didn't even wear real Slip-Ons in the show. Their white canvas footwear was likely bought in bulk and made on the cheap by a factory by Daejeon, South Korea, where Squid Game was filmed. Save for their knurled, Converse-esque toe cap, however, they looked a hell of a lot like Slip-Ons. A lot of people saw 'em, and a lot of people wanted shoes that looked like 'em, so what happened? Slip-On sales spiked by a whopping 7,800% at one Vans wholesaler a few weeks after the series premiered. Vans took the spike in good humour, with VF Corp chief financial officer Matt Pucket even mentioning it on an investor call: ',We saw a nice spike – well, I’d call it a small spike, but I’ll promise this is not a damned annual event'.
The surge in popularity may indeed not be a 'damned annual event', but it was one of the year's most enjoyable bits of footwear news. We'd have to assume that Vans/VF certainly weren't upset by the free marketing and extra cash they secured either!
Vans are no stranger to the collaborative space, with both their mainline offerings and premium Vault By Vans line offering dozens of carefully curated colabs each and every year. 2021 was no exception to this standard, as it was chock-a-block with projects from partners both fresh and familiar. A$AP Rocky brought some of his signature jiggy style to models like the Old Skool and a backless take on the Slip-On, while Salehe Bembury's signature fingerprint motif appeared on an under-the-radar Era. Palace doubled up in their first year working with Vans, introducing 'Jeremy the Duck', on an Era of their own and coating the Sk8-Hi in mushrooms. Vans also linked up with longtime partners like Patta, Supreme and mastermind JAPAN to round off its extensive slate of styles.
What other brand do you know that collaborates with both Palace and Supreme? That's a pretty rare occurrence, one that definitely deserves kudos.
Fiesta at Casa de Vans
Apart from launching a Channel 66 outpost in Mexico City, Vans also flung open the doors to their latest House of Vans outpost, located in Mexico's capital city. Community and good old-fashioned fun are two of the company's guiding principles – Paul Van Doren's son Steve is often referred to as Vans' 'Chief Fun Officer' – and HoV Mexico City offers both of those things in spades.
Apart from an indoor skatepark and wooden rooftop pool with beautiful views of the city, HoV Mexico City also boasts event spaces, art galleries, game rooms, co-working spaces and many other areas. Essentially, it's the coolest community centre you could possibly think of. Iñigo Perezcano, a senior marketing manager at Vans summed the space up perfectly when he said 'It’s a space where the ‘Off The Wall’ spirit lives, which will enable action sports, music, art, and street culture communities to embrace and develop their expressive creativity to keep making history within Mexico City’s rich creative landscape'. Looks like we gotta take a trip to Mexico City in 2022 - who's coming with?!
As mentioned above, community and fun are two of Vans' key principles. Another one is giving back. Vans have been involved in charitable work for decades, both through donations to causes and their own initiatives, and in 2021 they turned their attention to helping small businesses and inner-city students, both groups of people who'd been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
Vans began their 'Foot the Bill' program in 2020, giving small businesses the chance to make their own custom designs on the Vans website and letting consumers tweak those custom designs further to make 'em personal. That initative continued in 2021, and once again all the proceeds from the sale of the custom shoes went to their respective businesses! 'Foot the Bill' also served as a launching pad to support Black artists during Black History Month. The brand also gave laptops, backpacks and other school supplies to every single student at Los Angeles' School of Global Studies.
Want to see more brand-specific content? Check out the best of 2021 here.